An autopsy Sunday revealed an M16 bullet and pieces of shrapnel in the exhumed body of Yuval Castleman, a civilian who was shot by an off-duty reserve soldier at the scene of a deadly terror attack in Jerusalem last month, Hebrew media outlets reported.
The findings are at odds with the Israel Police’s position immediately after the incident that there were no bullets left in Castleman’s body, and that such a procedure was unnecessary. He was buried but exhumed on Friday after the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Police found new evidence that the test was needed.
As a result of the discovery, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai told the head of Israel Police Investigations and Intelligence Division, Superintendent Yigal Ben Shalom, to probe the newfound evidence and the overall handling of the investigation.
At the scene of the terror shooting in a bus stop, Staff Sgt. (res.) Aviad Frija, one of two off-duty troops who responded to the attack, opened fire on the two terrorists but also at Castleman, an armed civilian who had stopped his car across the street, got out, and himself opened fire on the terrorists.
Footage from the scene showed that Frija shot Castleman after the latter had put his gun down and was holding his hands in the air. He was questioned under caution last Sunday, arrested, then released to house arrest on Wednesday. He is suspected of having committed reckless homicide.
An official involved in the investigation told the Walla news site that Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara would need to intervene in the procedures if there was a fear of a cover-up.
Castleman’s relatives have been interviewed extensively since the incident, decrying a lack of communication with law enforcement officials and negligence in the investigation.
Castleman’s family has called the failures of the investigation “the October 7 of Israel Police,” comparing it to the failures of Israel’s security apparatus in preventing Hamas’s massacre of southern communities.
Shaked Castleman, Yuval’s brother, told Ynet that before the burial he tried to check with police to ensure that there was no need for an autopsy, and said an officer told him “they will not learn anything from it and it would only delay us.”
He said it was “unusual” that no tests were done before the funeral, and could not explain what had happened.
“Many times, the opposite is true,” added Yuval’s uncle Ran. “Police want to perform an autopsy and the family requests they don’t.”
Ran said that the police’s official statement that an autopsy was not needed included a “gross lie,” contrasting it with the army, which “understood within 24 hours that there was an incident and immediately began to investigate the soldier.”
The second soldier involved in the incident, who opened fire and was injured, was also questioned under caution last week, and in the past few days, Military Police took testimony from a third soldier seen in footage of the incident near Frija, according to Kan news.
Three people were killed and five were injured by the terrorists in the attack. Castleman was driving on the other side of the street when the attack occurred; he stopped his car, crossed the road and rushed at the terrorists with his firearm and fired at them.
סיכום פיגוע ירי הבוקר בירושלים:
2 מחבלים, אחים תושבי מזרח ירושלים, פתחו באש m-16 ואקדח לעבר עשרות אזרחים בתחנת אוטובוס בצומת גבעת שאול.
תגובה מיידית בירי של 2 חיילי צה"ל (בדרכם לעזה) ואזרח נוסף, חיסלו את המחבלים.
3 יהודים הי"ד נרצחו בפיגוע, 13 נפצעו מתוכם כמה קשה. pic.twitter.com/2ofl70cSMc
— יענקי כהן | Yanki Coen (@yankicoen) November 30, 2023
The soldiers, who arrived at the scene at around the same time, apparently mistook Castleman for a third assailant, and at least one, Frija, fired at him.
Graphic video from the scene showed Castleman throw away his gun, fall on his knees and raise his hands in the air while shouting, “Don’t shoot” as the soldiers approached him. He was then shot again.
Castleman also yelled at the soldiers until he collapsed, “Look at my ID, I am Jewish.”
Speaking about the incident, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said Tuesday that soldiers should not shoot at someone putting their hands up, and hailed Castleman’s “brave” action in eliminating the Hamas gunmen.
“This is truly heroism,” he said.
Speaking to the right-wing Channel 14 network shortly after the attack, Frija said that “someone shouted ‘terrorist.’ The soldier next to me and I were lying down on the floor and then we went around behind the [bus] station. We realized [the terrorists] were behind us.
“Slowly we looked for them, we walked crouched behind the station, and then when we passed the station we suddenly saw them and then shot them,” Frija said. “There was a terrorist there and we shot him.”
Asked by the network if he confirmed the terrorists had been killed, he said, “Yes, we shot until they fell.”
Frija’s lawyers, Col. (res,) Shlomi Tzipori and Col. (res.) Ran Cohen Rochberger, said in a statement to the media Monday that the videos showing the terror attack and fatal shooting “create a partial and false impression that does not reflect what was seen and heard from the direction of the soldier.
“The additional shooting carried out by the soldier and other people in the area toward the late Yuval must be examined according to all the circumstances and the situation that stood before the soldier’s eyes in real time,” the lawyers said.
Following the Military Police investigation, the IDF will decide if criminal charges should be brought against Frija. IDF protocols do not allow soldiers to shoot someone who raises their hands in the air, and officials say the soldier’s conduct during the incident was not what was expected of him based on the norms and values of the military.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.